Wedding in Kongsvinger
People, family, and friends
St. Paul, Minn.
Celebrations in Norway are … boisterous, and they always have been. Deeply rooted in sometimes ancient traditions, Norwegian holidays and special events keep history alive, while modernizing and, more recently, taking cues from the United States.
In the fortress town, Kongsvinger, an hour northeast of Oslo, my family attended a wedding of our cousin, Marte, to her husband, Olav, in 2019. Flying from Portland, Ore., where Marte lived with us for a year in 2005, to Oslo and then taking a train to Olav’s hometown made us the most far-flung of all the wedding guests.
The weekend started with a tour of Kongsvinger, led by a local guide. Since the town was new to most of the guests, this offered context for why we were there and what made it a special place, Norway, and the couple.
Our group of early arrivals, around 30 people, walked the cobblestone streets and eventually made it to the impressive fortress. It is a town of history, from 18th- and 19th-century homes, where soldiers and officers lived, to the surrounding area of the fortress that has been preserved as a living museum, reflecting the local development spreading from the center. This part of “Old Town” (Gamlebyen) is called Øvrebyen. From the top of the hill, we could see all the surrounding area, including the Glåma river. After walking around town, the group was ready for a small reception at a local café, Kafe Bohem, where tap beer was flowing with some light snacks.
The following day, an early afternoon ceremony left a lot of time to be at the “party location” (festlokalet), a farm that has been in use for centuries called Granli Gård. The ceremony was held at Vinger Kirke, in Old Town, a small white church where Marte’s grandparents were also married in 1950!
Olav was dressed in a Solør-Odals bunad, also known as national dress or a folk costume, from the surrounding Kongsvinger area, and Marte wore a white dress and veil. The choice for only one of the pair to wear a bunad, mirrored the rest of their wedding as a mix of traditional and modern traditions.
Each stage of the wedding was marked with beverages. Champagne, as we arrived at the glorious and sweeping farmstead, dinner with bottles of communal wine, cognac and Irish cream with dessert and late nights chats, an open bottle bar on the dance floor, and of course beer to go with our “night food” (pølse med lompe—hot dogs with a lefse-like potato wrap) made by the mother of the bride. After I had enough of dancing, I even volunteered to help prepare the much-needed midnight snack.
The reception location was beautiful and hospitable. The main house on the farm had a suite upstairs for the bride and groom, and the maid of honor, her partner, and the best man and his partner were also able to stay on the grounds.
Champagne was served on the back patio, overlooking a bright green lawn, complete with a self-automated lawn mower that kept us entertained. Dinner was served alongside long hall-type tables and before entering the space, all the guests had to find their spot in the seating chart and line up outside. My sister and I were near some of Marte’s friends from college, and after a bit of wine (for all of us), they realized that we were from the United States and spoke Norwegian. We all became fast friends, and they helped us navigate through some of the traditions that were new to us.
If the bride left to go to the bathroom, all the young women would have to get up from their seat, run around the room and give the groom a kiss on the cheek. The same went for the groom. Marte and Olav also played the wedding “shoe” game, where they answered questions about each other by holding up either their own shoe or the shoe of their partner while standing back-to-back.
After a buffet dinner that included salmon, salami, scrambled eggs, and more, the highlight of the evening began. Toasts are even more elaborate in Norway than they are in the United States. On their wedding website, Marte and Olav indicated that anyone who wanted to prepare a toast should let them know in advance, and packets with original song lyrics and photos were passed out to each guest. The more involved the better, and after the speeches from the parents of the bride and groom and the maid of honor and best man, the toast-givers went all out trying to make the room laugh, with teasing of the wedding couple required.
Of course, just like the drinks, dessert also came in stages. Riskrem (rice pudding mixed with whipped cream) topped with cloudberry preserves after dinner, followed by a cookie and cake table before dancing. The miniature groom on top of the kransekake lost his head at one point in the evening, which was promptly replaced with a blueberry. Causing us all to refer to Olav as “blåbærhode” (blueberry head)!
The party lasted well past the 12-hour mark from the two o’clock reception. A live band played for everyone who wanted to dance and featured a few guitar solos by Olav himself. Every guest in attendance had fun, especially the maid of honor who marked in the guest book that she was the last woman in bed at 3:55 a.m.
The entire day was inclusive, warm, and had just the right touch of formality. Our family felt welcomed and honored when Marte’s mother mentioned us in her speech. She switched to English, long enough to allow my dad (the only non-Norwegian speaker in the room) to stand up and say a few words about his “Norwegian daughter.” Weddings, as I know them, are about bringing two families and groups of friends together, and that is what this one was about. It was a day for the couple, but also for the guests, to enjoy and celebrate. Experiencing traditional events in a new culture is about respect. Differences can be observed and appreciated, but at the end of a long dance party on a warm August night, it’s about the people, family, and friends, both old and new.
All photos courtesy of Laila Simon.
This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.